On Friday, Kathy Zhu, Miss Michigan and upcoming Miss World America contestant, was stripped of her rank after a series of truly terrible tweets from the college student resurfaced on social media. Conservative pundits labeled pageant’s actions “Magaphobia,” with everyone from alt-right conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec to disgraced singer Joy Villa weighing in. The path the story charted over the weekend landed Zhu among the ever increasing number of conservative “martyrs” enjoying a brief spin in the limelight as a symbol of the perceived discrimination faced by those with Trumpian *coughracistcough* politics.
Having tracked this cycle myself (and written of it quite frequently) I’m left to wonder: Who does it really benefit?
In 2018, writer Annie Martin documented a series of tweets from University of Central Florida students after the school’s “Muslim group” offered a “try a hijab on” booth. One tweet in particular resurfaced this week when enterprising social media users noted that “@PolicalKathy” was Kathy Zhu, the upcoming Miss Michigan in the Miss World America pageant. In response to the tweet, now deleted, Zhu tweeted a strange retort to a Twitter user claiming she was racist: “The majority of black deaths are caused by other blacks? Fix problems within your own community before blaming others.”
Zhu, responding to the growing social media attention, tweeted:
Someone called me an islamophobic for not wanting to put on a hijab. Someone called me a racist because I recognize that black people kill more blacks than police do. Good luck to those who are as gullible as this.’
She then revealed emails sent between the directors of the Miss World America pageant. In them, she questions if they “know what is insensitive” and if “the people in MWA [are] implying that they advocate for punishment of women who refuse to wear a hijab.” Fox News eventually picked up on the story, portraying Zhu as a sympathetic, unwilling victim of systemic injustice on behalf of the “tolerant left.” Shortly after, Zhu released a video thanking her many new fans and followers that “there shouldn’t be just a diversity of skin color, but a diversity of thought.”
The cycle of Zhu’s rise to deplorable glory adheres to a too-familiar narrative amongst hardline conservatives: that racists are frequently unfairly punished for having a “difference of opinion.” The call to action was certainly heard, as a slew of blue-checked “conservative” Twitter fixtures were retweeted sharing their support, while outlets like Breitbart and Townhall posted “in defense of” blogs. Fox 2 Detroit even granted Zhu an interview, as evidenced by photos she shared this morning.
The immediacy with which an unknown pageant contestant became legitimized as a metaphor for the irrationality of the left is grim reminder of the success that often comes with any kind of social media notoriety—even negative press. Consider the “Bagel Boss Guy,” who went from a dangerous, misogynistic terror at a local bagel shop to a beloved incel hero in a matter of days. He even found representation and advertised t-shirts before Twitter suspended him last Tuesday.
In regards to Kathy Zhu, I doubt that her Fox 2 appearance will be the last we hear from her. There’s an infinitesimal line between a disgraced racist and a rising social media celebrity, which grows slimmer by the day. Perhaps let’s stop naming people “Gun Girls” and “Bagel Boss Guys.” It might even help to stop covering these fake heroes on sites like Jezebel, which only legitimizes the platform they should be denied in the first place. But it’s the weekend, the news is slow, and Zhu is, quite literally, everywhere—so how can I not shout about this mess into the abyss? How? Please, tell me! I’m begging you!